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Si Se Puede! Dolores Huerta Will Receive Medal of Freedom Award PDF Print E-mail
Written by Diana Martinez, Editor   
Thursday, 03 May 2012 02:40

President Obama will Present the Award to Her Later this Month


Dolores Huerta

This week, President Barack Obama named Dolores Huerta as one of thirteen recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The Medal of Freedom is the nation's highest civilian honor presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States: world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.

Huerta, mother of 11, and now at age 82, currently serves as board president of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, her own foundation that develops organizers and community leaders who advocate for working poor, women and children.

Widely known as a civil rights leader, with Cesar Chavez, Huerta co-founded the United Farm Workers of America in 1962. As Political Director of the UFW, Huerta was influential in securing the passage of the Immigration Reform Act of 1986. In 1998, President Clinton awarded her the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights.

Huerta is well known to San Fernando Valley residents and since the early 1970's she and Cesar Chavez encouraged those on college campuses and in urban communities to join their struggle for farmworker's rights in the fields. She has continued to be a well loved and an influential force in the Northeast San Fernando valley as a frequent speaker at educational community events and the northeast valley's annual Cesar Chavez march. The city of San Fernando was the first city in the country to recognize Cesar Chavez holiday.

Announcing the recipients, President Obama said: "These extraordinary honorees come from different backgrounds and different walks of life, but each of them has made a lasting contribution to the life of our Nation. They've challenged us, they've inspired us, and they've made the world a better place. I look forward to recognizing them with this award."

In response Dolores Huerta said, "I am honored to receive this award. It affirms the importance of organizing to maintain a democratic society, be it for workers, women, the LGBT community, or immigrants. Organized communities guarantee civic engagement, which creates the path for a just, fair, and peaceful society. Bringing our organized movements together can insure the majority of Americans the ability to participate fully to achieve the American dream."

Dolores Huerta spoke to SFV Sun/El Sol Editor Diana Martinez.

SFV Sun/El Sol: You've been recognized as a community activist and political organizer for social justice for more than 50 years and are well known for giving a voice to marginalized communities and you are internationally recognized as a feminist, a farm worker advocate, a gay rights activist, and a labor leader. Did you expect to win this award?

Dolores Huerta: "I was told last year that it was proposed, but people may tell you that it's going to happen but that doesn't mean that it will. So, when it happened I felt very honored. When I got the Eleanor Roosevelt Award from President Clinton, I figured that was a high enough honor especially since they had given the Medal of [Freedom] previously to Cesar.

SFV Sun/El Sol: Are you hoping this award will open up more doors of accessibility to you?

Dolores Huerta: I think it makes my voice a little louder and a little stronger for the causes that I believe in especially for those thousands that have worked for the movement, farm workers movement, the women's movement, What this means to me and what it represents is that. organizing is respected. If people aren't organized, they don't have a voice, they don't have representation, they don't have strength. So this means that organizing is respected. I think to get the recognition for organizing, especially in our country today where there has been a war on women, the war on immigrants, the war on working people. I think it's great that I received it, I feel very humbled.

SFV Sun/El Sol: Does this complete the circle for you, since Cesar Chavez was given the award previously, posthumously?

Dolores Huerta: Absolutely, absolutely. Too bad that he couldn't receive the award when he was still alive but I'm glad I'm still around to be able to receive the award

SFV Sun/El Sol: Unlike most everyone, you are in a unique position to be able to speak to the President of the United States. What sort of things will be telling him when you go to Washington later this month?

Dolores Huerta: There is an awful lot that needs to be said to the President. He faces a very difficult situation The economy of the country was ruined. He was faced with two wars that he didn't start. He had to try to get the economy back from financial disabilities. He put out so much energy to get his health care bill through. It was something that to help every single citizen in the United States of America. The immigrationo bill would help 11 million people. I think it's a little hard to criticize the President, especially when you know it's the congress that actually passes the laws and not the President. He's not a dictator, he can't say this is what I want and make it happen. It's got to be the Congress who is going to pass the law. We aren't going to get immigration reform until we get a congress who is going to vote for it.

SFV Sun/El Sol: Will that be one of the issues that you speak to him about?

Dolores Huerta: It's one of the issues that I speak publicly about because you can't get immigration reform unless you out there to elect people who are going to vote for it in the first place. This is our job, this is what we have to do. You cannot change the policy of deportation, you should not deport students, they should not deport people who have citizen children, they should not deport people unless they have a felony so you try to mitigate what's been happening. It's our job because we are supposed to be working with these people in the Congress and the Senate.

SFV Sun/El Sol: I'm speaking with you on May Day .. what are your thoughts today?.

Dolores Huerta: It's important to remember what workers contribute and to celebrate the manual workers, those that work with their hands and the value of the work that they do, often for minimum wage. It's also important to recognize labor unions which are an organization of workers. Without the labor unions we wouldn't have minimum wage, safety standards, profit shares workman's compensation, and even public education.

SFV Sun/El Sol: You are always described as a mother of eleven. During your early days of activism and organizing, how did you manage motherhood with all the work that you're very passionate about as a union organizer.

Dolores Huerta: You have to ask for help and as women we often think that we it's only our responsibility and no one else's when it comes to our children, and one of the things that we have to fight even harder for because we still don't have it is to fight for is adequate early childhood education so that women can take their places in the civic life of our nation. When a woman is active then her whole family becomes active and the woman sets the values for the family and the fact that Obama recognizes me as a woman organizer it makes it much stronger that feminist women are the ones that need to be in decisive positions so that we can change the world.

SFV Sun/El Sol: Your activism changed the dynamic within your whole household. In our previous interview you have made the point that your husband also being right by your side to do all of this work.

Dolores Huerta: Right . And my mother Alicia St. John Chavez (no relation to Cesar) was a feminist and she was a very strong woman.

She was a business woman and she divorced my father and raised kids by herself and she was a very, very strong woman. She was a dominant force in my life She was a fabulous cook and she had a diner and she managed a hotel and we had a seven room hotel that we were raised in. It's part of my heritage in Stockton. I was in Stockton until we started the union in Delano 1962.

SFV Sun/El Sol: It's not always the case that those that have become name recognizable "icons" have trained others to sit in their chairs but that is a mission of your foundation to train others who can in turn train others.

Dolores Huerta: That's the great thing about community organizing organize from the grass roots level and you have a lot of emerging leadership that comes up and people have to volunteer to do the work and when in doing the work they learn leadership skills and they in turn leave something behind as they go in and get people involved with issues in the community. By doing this work, they build their own leadership qualities. Through the UFW there are now so many people who are now leaders that are now doing great things that came out of the union.

At the foundation .. I'm doing a lot of work with immigrants and interestingly enough most of the people that come with us are women and we have many organizing opportunities available for them. They volunteer and they do incredible things. We have a committee that got a neighborhood park, another committee got a bond passed so that they could build a gymnasium at a middle school, another committee got sewer drains for 26 homes that didn't have them, another one got a swimming pool, we got our congressman to vote for our health care bill when he didn't want to do , we got sidewalks and fixed the gutters and we had enough volunteers to knock on 3,000 homes for the census , teenage pregnancy prevention with our youth and parents. It's just incredible to see all of this work.

SFV Sun/El Sol: In 2002, you founded the Dolores Huerta Foundation with a mission to develop community organizers and national leaders.

Do you feel confident that you have passed down your knowledge so that others will now be able to continue your work?

Dolores Huerta: Well that's exactly what I do and that's what my foundation is all about to pass on knowledge on grass roots organizing and help people develop their leadership skills. We do a lot of work on voting registration and getting out of the vote and we just did a petition drive on voting rights tax.

SFV Sun/El Sol: Do you feel confident in the future of the Latino community?

Dolores Huerta: Only through organizing. We have to do a lot more organizing.

SFV Sun/El Sol: You have eleven children – what are some of the fields that they went into?

Dolores Huerta: My oldest son is a doctor, another son is a lawyer, I have a daughter who is a nurse, another is a teacher, another is a filmmaker, another daughter is our business manager for my foundation, another one is the foundation's executive director, another one is an artistI, another son who is a Sheriff. One is a doctor, one And they were all raised in poverty because of my work with the farmworkers because we never got paid.

SFV Sun/El Sol: Do you think coming from that background that made them stronger?

Dolores Huerta: I think so. It made them very resourceful because they didn't have any money.

SFV Sun/El Sol: What else is important for you to mention?

Dolores Huerta: For my 80th birthday, when we celebrated we called it ""Weaving Movements Together." to bring together those working in immigrant rights, LGBT, feminist, environmental and labor activists we're in this together" because I believe we are all in this together and the only way we are going to fix things is to do it together. I'm on the board for Southern California for the Equality in Marriage, I'm on the board for the Feminist Majority, I'm on the board for the American Way because I believe we have to bring all of our movements together to work together and and that includes of course with the immigrant rights movement and the labor movement. It's only together that we're going to win.

Founded in 2002, the Dolores Huerta Foundation describes it's mission to create a network of organized communities pursuing social justice through systemic and structural transformation. The Foundation is a non-partisan, non-profit community benefit organization that organizes at the grassroots level, engaging and developing natural leaders. DHF creates leadership opportunities for community organizing, leadership development, civic engagement, and policy advocacy in the following priority areas: Health and Environment, Education and Youth Development, and Economic Development.

To learn more about the Dolores Huerta Foundation visit

Last Updated on Thursday, 03 May 2012 02:48